Fixing dad

DadandsonsIt’s worrying to hear that one in six people in the UK suffers from type 2 diabetes and even more worrying to know that one in three of us is prediabetic for type 2 diabetes. That means we are all likely to know someone in this position or are in that state ourselves. Worrying, yes, but when does this become alarming? Of course, from the perspective of NHS funding issues, this really is alarming, but at what point are sufferers made to feel the urgency or potential hope in the situation?

If their experience is anything like ours, the answer is that they are not. We have spent the last 2 years trying to restore our dad Geoff’s health as a type 2 diabetic with all its associated complications plus a few others besides. From his point of view, he was taking a sizeable handful of pills for high blood pressure and cholesterol anyway, so a load of metformin was hardly going to cause any trouble. He was told that it was just a ‘progressive but manageable condition’. 

It wasn’t until 9 years after his diagnosis that circulatory complications and diabetic ulcers brought home the very real threat of amputation. The prognosis for someone who survives a diabetic amputation is worse than that of almost all cancers and, as a family, we weren’t ready to lose our dad – even one piece at a time. 

Everyone is busy with their own work and family commitments, but we knew that if we didn’t step in things would only get worse for dad. We overhauled his diet, got him out cycling with us and got him involved in working with diabetes charities. Now, a year and a half later, he has lost 6 stone, is a keen amateur endurance cyclist (he’ll be there at the Prudential 100 again this year) and he is speaking around the world about his experiences as a patient with diabetes. 

There has been a huge amount of work on all our parts to get him to this point and he hasn’t been the most amenable participant in the project. We found that inspiring him to make small, manageable changes has been more effective than preaching at, or nagging, him to take control of his health could ever have been. Educating him in the implications of not getting his diabetes under control served a purpose, but the real improvements happened when he was inspired to get better. It was the combination of hope, support and continual and consistent action that has meant he has now safely been able to come off all his diabetes medication; his diabetes has now been officially documented as ‘resolved’.

We still have to keep an eye on him and his blood glucose levels from time to time, but he is in better health now than he has been in decades and his quality of life has improved unrecognisably. Added to that, not only do we have the hope of many more years with our dad, we have made the most amazing memories whilst fixing him. The film following his story, Fixing Dad, will be released in the autumn. For more information on the project please visit or

Jennifer Whitington

Comment (1) Add yours ↓
  1. Mike Kirby

    This personal reflection should encourage us all, not only to manage T2DM well by motivating lifestyle change in addition to medication but should also lead us focus on the prevention of T2DM

    The Da Qing IGT and Diabetes Study assessed the role of diet, exercise and a combined regimen in patients with IGT in China
    At 6-year follow-up, the diet, exercise, and combined intervention groups were associated with a 31%, 46%, and 42% respective reduction in the risk of developing DM. This study clearly highlights the importance of physical activity in preventing DM.
    These results were consistent with those seen with the Finnish Diabetes Prevention Study that evaluated the role of diet modification and routine exercise in patients with IGT. Lifestyle intervention involved individualized counseling aimed to reduce weight and reduced fat intake, increased dietary fiber intake and increased physical activity. Subjects in intervention group lost more weight (up to 3.5 kg by the end of 2nd year) than in control group. In addition, the incidence of DM was reduced significantly by 58% at a mean follow up of 3.2 years.

    Lifestyle intervention is shown to have highest effectiveness not only in relatively homogenous populations in China and Finland, but also in the ethnically and culturally diverse population of United States.In the US DPP study which was performed in a total of 3234 individuals with IFG and IGT were randomized either to placebo, metformin (850 mg twice daily) or an intensive lifestyle modification program. The lifestyle intervention group achieved greater average weight loss (5.6 kg) with increased physical activity. After a mean follow up of 2.8 years, the incidence of DM was reduced by 58% in lifestyle intervention group and by 31% in metformin group compared with placebo group. The lifestyle intervention benefited patients across the spectrum of age and BMI. These effects were similar in all racial and ethnic groups and in both sexes.
    Similar results were observed in independent study the Asian Indian Diabetes Prevention Programme (IDPP). The Indian diabetes prevention programme shows that lifestyle modification and metformin to prevent type 2 diabetes in Asian Indian subjects with impaired glucose tolerance really works.

    I agree with Jennifer, frequent & consistent messages about diet & exercise provided with enthusiasm & sincerity can be very effective. Although most patients are aware of the benefits of exercise, and a healthy diet. It is up to us to move them from wishful thinking to a practical reality and move them from contemplation to the action phase.
    During one minute of counselling, it is our attitude and our commitment toward explaining the importance of diet and exercise or the harm of inactivity that may move patients.
    A simple message, delivered in a non judgemental way, needs to be repeated every time we encounter our patients.

    June 6, 2015 Reply

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